School Time

A reader of my PTA Advisory Council post suggested that I naively accept CPS’ presentations on the extended day. This may be true. But I love learning new things, so I’ve spent the last four days reading education research papers and studies, websites, blogs, and articles. I have a list of at least 40 other studies I want to find and read. I daresay I want to take a statistics class so I can better understand raw data sets. But what I found so far in the studies surprised me. Study abstracts on extended school time dismiss its effectiveness summarily, as do those who quote them in the fury breeding throughout the Chicago education discussion. But a deeper dive into the research suggests to me that the issue is (unfairly?) cast as enemy #1 of CPS parents.
I’m pretty sure that Rahm Emmanuel pulled the 7.5-hour day out of a rabbit hole and blamed it on Houston. (Although maybe he got the number from a 1996 case study about a Boston middle school or was just trying to one-up Daley, who suggested year-round schools in 2005?) But the optimist (and it’s chronic) in me believes that Jean-Claude Brizard and the powers-that-be at CPS must have read Erika Patall’s 2010 synthesis of extended school time research studies. While Arne Duncan may have simply been repeating his boss’s concern, I think President Obama likely did some policy work on the matter.
This concern over school time is also nothing new. As Marcotte and Hansen point out in their study, the American concern for time spent in school pre-dates even the 20th century, when school calendars began to shed days like a post-partum mother loses hair. In 1990, The Atlantic Monthly published a lengthy essay written by Michael Barrett, a state legislator in Massachusetts. In it, he made a case for additional school time. Paul Vallas (remember him?) proposed extending the school year in Philadelphia, where he was schools’ chief in 2006. 
The opposition to extending the school day or year is also decades old. In her 2007 study, Elena Silva reported that by 1889, American cities’ schools had adopted summer holidays in July and August, reducing the nearly year-round school systems’ calendars to 250ish days. The elite parents of the day advocated for their children’s “need” to take a longer mental break. I wonder who was thinking about the minds of little mill workers?
Indeed, the studies’ observations reflect many of today’s comments about the full school day. Silva writes, “The strongest opposition to extending the school into the summer or throughout the year comes from middle-class and affluent parents who see no real benefit for their own children for giving up the vacation schedule they have come to expect.” 6.5 to Thrive might find allies with Florida’s Save Our Summers or Save Alabama Summers. In a 2006 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, 67 percent of poll respondents said that they’d favor a one-hour extension of the school day. I believe this is consistent with what the Raise Your Hand Coalition found in its survey last year.  
In this journey into education politics and reform, I’ve met many well-educated, resourceful, and dedicated parents and teachers. I’m often frustrated by the current discussion about school time. I believe it is a distraction from the way we, as parents, can best advocate for all children and influence change in the city and state. Namely: money. Although the longer day and paying for the longer day are intractably linked, I believe that the best way that we can advocate for everyone is to keep asking CPS, City Hall, and Gov. Quinn: who’s paying? And how?
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